As a civil funeral celebrant, I find the funeral industry very interesting. The way that death is a taboo subject and my growing awareness of the restraints that most people seem to feel when they are touched by death. I enjoy making a difference and pride myself in supporting families through a very sad and difficult time. Holding families by the hand and helping them navigate the many paths required to craft and create a highly personalised and dignified funeral ceremony. I am getting frustrated and find it quite ironic that families who struggle the most to pay their funeral bill, chose to say goodbye with beautiful and excessively expensive floral tributes.
In the main, it is a challenging time for families when dealing with death and I totally agree that beautiful fresh flowers can be the perfect way to create a personalised tribute. Offering a sense of comfort and for some, floral tributes are the ultimate way to say goodbye. Given my experiences with families and funeral flowers, I have changed my view point entirely. Harsh as it may seem flowers die, they are very expensive and largely due to global transportation of flowers, they have a large carbon footprint. To some of the families I have worked with flowers can be seen as a burden, at a time, when frankly they just don’t need another one… more importantly, I have discovered that flowers are an utter waste… literally!
That said, I would hate to see no flowers at a funeral and I totally promote and support the right for families to have a choice. However, I actively try to inspire families to be mindful of the environment when choosing their floral tributes. More importantly, I encourage them to think about what they would like to do with their flowers after the funeral ceremony has ended. It is news to most of my families that their beautiful expensive floral tributes are destined for the bin.
There are over 600.000 deaths a year in the U.K. so it is reasonable to assume that there are also 600.000 funerals. How people choose to remember a life is changing and being mindful about flower tributes can have, surprisingly, a significant impact. Arguably, how we care for the environment is fast becoming an important aspect of all decisions we make, especially as the decisions made today affect our future generations.
I think it is fair to say that more and more people are starting to reflect on how they want to be remembered and how, in death, they can encourage consideration for the environment. The fact is, everyone needs to reduce their carbon footprint and being dead doesn’t mean it doesn’t apply.
I hope this article will highlight and create awareness about what happens to most of the beautiful floral tributes following a funeral when everyone has gone. If this article encourages people to make responsible decisions… it will have been worth writing it.
At a graveside, if visited, flowers can be enjoyed for all to see until they completely lose their beauty, after they which they are removed by cemetery staff. However, up to 70% of all funerals in the UK are held at crematoriums and within 24-48 hours, floral tributes, still in their full beauty are binned! Sadly, all floral tributes attend a funeral of their own making and become part of a mass grave that gets dumped in a commercial waste bin, to be transported on their final journey to landfill.
During my research for this article I spoke with crematoria staff and they all agreed that floral tributes, although beautiful, are such an expensive waste! It transpires that crematoriums do not use garden waste bins neither do they have the resources, manpower or time to recycle any of the parts that floral tributes contain. This ultimately means that thousands of all non-biodegradable parts used to create these floral masterpieces like florist foam, plastics forms, ribbon and cellophane go directly to landfill and will remain on our planet, polluting our environment for an undetermined number of years to come.
Being mindful about our choices, especially in death, about the products we use and how we dispose of them may seem to you like insignificant actions but theoretically, 600.000 small actions could make a huge difference to our island.
There is so much waste when it comes to floral tributes at funerals… it is criminal. Even when families request no flowers or family flowers only, attendees feel the need to bring or send a floral tribute of some kind. Usually there are family flowers, mourner’s flowers, coffin sprays, wreaths, letters that spell out MUM, DAD, NAN etc, simple basket designs, cushions, crosses, single stems and lets not get started on the individually commissioned displays like football shirts, golf holes or motorbikes.
There are several ways in which families can take steps to ensure that their beautiful floral tributes are environmentally friendly and some are listed below:
- Use a florist who source locally grown stems.
- Use a florist who source their flowers from responsible farming methods i.e. where flowers are grown where possible, ensuring no negative impacts affect the integrity of the environment.
- Use a florist who only buys what they are going to sell or at least checks out if their supplier donates spare stems to hospices, care homes or a community placement.
- Ensure only biodegradable and sustainable materials are used in the creation of your floral tribute like moss, willow and a mixture of foliage.
- Chose a natural arrangement and avoid the traditional use of floral foam.
- Ask your florist to reduce their use of plastics and cellophane wrapping, use natural materials instead like hessian bows.
- Ask for donations to a charity instead of floral tributes.
- Ask for single stemmed floral tributes.
- Share one big tribute from the family instead of lots of tributes.
- Ask your florist to use flowers that are in season
- Discuss with your florist how the flowers within your tribute could be reused e.g. made into individual posies following the ceremony and displayed at home.
- Use foraged flowers or flowers cut from a keen gardener’s garden…what better tribute could there be?
- Go DIY and create a tribute from wild flowers
There are also practical things you can do to show your support to the family and honour the life of someone who has died:
- Write your tribute in a letter or a card
- Visit the bereaved family or take them out for a coffee.
- Listen to the bereaved family and give them the space they need to grieve.
- Pop by unexpectedly, especially when everyday life continues
- Use your culinary skills to create a feast
- Take your floral tribute home and enjoy its beauty.
- Take your tribute home and recycle the components so they do not all land up in landfill.
I am definitely not saying that flowers should be banned from funerals, far from it. What I am saying is we should all be mindful to make responsible choices when it comes to floral tributes. Be bold ask florists how your beautiful and heartfelt, chosen floral tributes can be made more environmentally friendly and be less wasteful.
If we’ve got to go…and go we all must…why not go green!
By Carol Anne Waters
This article was orginally published in More to Death, the official magazine to The Natural Death Centre.